Actors portray a scene during the Trail of Tears Drama, which took place at the Cherokee Heritage Center’s amphitheater from 1969 to 2005 in Park Hill, Okla. The play depicted the struggles of Cherokee people on the Trail of Tears and when they arrived in Indian Territory. COURTESY PHOTO

Cherokee amphitheater once Trail of Tears Drama site

Dancers hold aloft a Phoenix Dancer during the Trail of Tears Drama, which opened in 1969 at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Okla. The summer drama opened with about 75 actors, techs and support staff and was written by Kermit Hunter. COURTESY PHOTO The Trail of Tears Drama opened in 1969 in an amphitheater built especially for it at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Okla. The stage had nine places for scenes and there were revolving stages on each side of the main stage. COURTESY PHOTO The Trail of Tears Drama opened in 1969 in an amphitheater built especially for it at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Okla. The stage had nine places for scenes and there were revolving stages on each side of the main stage. The play depicted the struggles of Cherokee people on the Trail of Tears and when they arrived in Indian Territory. COURTESY PHOTO An audience attending the Trail of Tears Drama in 1989 listens to pre-show entertainment. The drama opened in 1969 in an amphitheater built especially for it at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Okla. COURTESY PHOTO
Dancers hold aloft a Phoenix Dancer during the Trail of Tears Drama, which opened in 1969 at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Okla. The summer drama opened with about 75 actors, techs and support staff and was written by Kermit Hunter. COURTESY PHOTO
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter – @cp_wchavez
05/29/2013 07:58 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Tonia Hogner Weavel is an alumna of the original Trail of Tears Drama that began playing in June 1969 in an amphitheater built especially for it at the Cherokee Heritage Center. She was the principal dancer for it in 1974 and 1976.

Weavel, who is now the CHC’s education director, said the drama opened with about 75 actors, techs and support staff. It was written by Kermit Hunter and continued the dramatic story performed by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians titled “Unto These Hills,” which is still shows today in Cherokee, N.C.

“It (“Unto These Hills”) was the first half of the removal, and ours was after we (Cherokee people) reached Indian Territory,” she said.

In an unusual twist, Weavel said the amphitheater where the drama was performed until 2005 was designed to fit the script. “Usually the theater is built and you just work with what you have but in this instance the theater was designed to fit the show.”

Charles “Chief” Boyd, an architecture graduate at the time, designed the amphitheater after traveling to New York City to research ideas with CHC co-founder Col. Martin Hagerstrand. The theater was designed using a “thrust stage or extended into the audience,” was steeply graded and fan-shaped.

“It was built to form an intimacy with the play. Even though it was a great outdoor amphitheater, it was designed to be as intimate to the stage as possible,” Weavel said.

The audience was never more than 75 feet from the stage, she added. And because of the steepness of the amphitheater, an audience of 1,800 could look down on the stage and actors.

“There was not a bad seat in the house, literally. For the most part you didn’t miss anything in any seat in the house,” Weavel said.

At the back of the main stage was a “mountaintop” with natural foliage. Behind the stage were dressing rooms. The stage had nine places for scenes and there were revolving stages on each side of the main stage.

Another impressive feature was it was the first outdoor theater with an air-cooled stage. On the stage sides were air-conditioning vents that blew across the stage, which Weavel said was necessary on hot nights.

Also, the stage’s design and theater served another purpose. Weavel said in the old days of the theater, actors did not use amplification devices to project their voices and needed “theater voices” that could project to the back of the stage.

“So we didn’t use any kind of microphone system because the theater was built in such a way as to carry the sound up,” she said. “We did have music and we did have narration, so there was a sound system.”

Later, actors used wireless microphones when they became more available and easier to use.

“The theater was a grand place. It was at a time when the technology we have today was not in place, so our entertainment was self-imposed. Like the drive-in theater that has gone by the wayside, amphitheaters have done the same. It’s much easier to sit in your air-conditioned home and dial up a movie on Netflix...than it is to take the effort to get in your car and go sit out in maybe 95-degree heat and make the effort to go see a show,” Weavel said.

She said ultimately that is why the drama stopped. Dwindling attendance along with the cost of putting on the drama made it impossible to continue.

“One thing that has not died is the people’s memories and their experiences with the Trail of Tears Drama from 1969 until it closed in 2005. It set wonderful memories and it allowed people to learn more about Cherokee culture,” she said.

will-chavez@cherokee.org


918-207-3961

About the Author
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M.

He enjoys studying and writing about Cherokee history and culture and writing stories about Cherokee veterans. For Will, the most enjoyable part of writing for the Cherokee Phoenix is having the opportunity to meet Cherokee people from all walks of life.
He earned a mass communications degree in 1993 from Northeastern State University with minors in marketing and psychology. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association.

Will has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 20 years. He has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a reporter and a photographer for the Cherokee Phoenix for more than 18 years. He was named interim executive editor on Dec. 8, 2015, by the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board.
WILL-CHAVEZ@cherokee.org • 918-207-3961
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M. He enjoys studying and writing about Cherokee history and culture and writing stories about Cherokee veterans. For Will, the most enjoyable part of writing for the Cherokee Phoenix is having the opportunity to meet Cherokee people from all walks of life. He earned a mass communications degree in 1993 from Northeastern State University with minors in marketing and psychology. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association. Will has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 20 years. He has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a reporter and a photographer for the Cherokee Phoenix for more than 18 years. He was named interim executive editor on Dec. 8, 2015, by the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board.

Culture

BY STAFF REPORTS
08/23/2016 04:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY – Cherokee National Treasure Martha Berry will teach a beadwork class at 10 a.m. on Nov. 12 at the Oklahoma History Center. The project will be a bandolier bag. Bandolier bags are beaded pouches with beaded flaps to enclose the pouches. They have beaded straps to enable the owners to wear the bags diagonally over the shoulder. The bag usually rests at hip level. The bag’s designs are created using glass beads. Berry creates beaded bandolier bags, moccasins, belts, sashes, small purses and knee bands in the styles worn by the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole prior to 1850. She was designated a Cherokee National Treasure in 2013. Her work can be viewed at <a href="http://www.berrybeadwork.com" target="_blank">http://www.berrybeadwork.com</a>. The Oklahoma History Center is located at 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive. For more information, call Sarah Dumas at 405-521-2491.
BY STAFF REPORTS
08/19/2016 12:00 PM
CHATSWORTH, Ga. – The next meeting of the Georgia Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association will begin at 10:30 a.m. on Sept. 10 at the Vann House State Historic Site near Chatsworth. Speakers will be Cherokee Nation citizens Patsy Edgar and Tony Harris. Edgar is one of the founding members of the GATOTA and is secretary of the national TOTA board of directors. Tony is vice president of GATOTA and an expert in native plants used by the Cherokee. The topic will be “The Cherokee Nation Today.” A GATOTA business meeting will follow. The Vann House is located 3 miles west of Chatsworth at the intersection of Highways 225 and 52-A. People are welcome to bring a picnic lunch and tour the site after the meeting. During the 1790s, James Vann was a Cherokee leader and wealthy businessman. He established the largest and most prosperous plantation in the Cherokee Nation, covering 1,000 acres of what is now Murray County. The beautiful 2-1/2-story brick home at the site was the most elegant in the CN. After Vann was murdered in 1809, his son Joseph inherited the plantation. Joseph was also a Cherokee leader and became even wealthier than his father. In the 1830s, most of the Cherokee people were forced west by state and federal troops on the Trail of Tears. The Vann family lost their elegant home rebuilt their lives in Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma. Today the Vann House survives as Georgia’s best-preserved historic Cherokee home. A guided tour allows visitors to see the home, which features beautiful hand carvings, a remarkable “floating” staircase, a 12-foot mantle and fine antiques. The TOTA was created to support the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail established by an act of Congress in 1987. The TOTA is dedicated to identifying and preserving sites associated with the removal of Native Americans from the southeastern United States. The association consists of nine state chapters representing the nine states that the Cherokee and other tribes traveled through on their way to Indian Territory. GATOTA meetings are free and open to the public. People need not have Native American ancestry to attend GATOTA meetings, just an interest and desire to learn more about this period in this country’s history. For more information about the TOTA, visit www.nationaltota.org. For more information on the Georgia Chapter, visit <a href="http://www.gatrailoftears.org" target="_blank">www.gatrailoftears.org</a>. For more information about the September meeting, email <a href="mailto: harris7627@bellsouth.net">harris7627@bellsouth.net</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
08/17/2016 04:15 PM
PARK HILL, Okla. – A new exhibit is to open at the Cherokee Nation’s John Ross Museum featuring information about John Ross and his Cherokee roots. “John Ross: The Early Years” will run Aug. 26 through Nov. 1. Free admission will be offered on opening day. The exhibit features the early years of the former chief’s life, including his time growing up in the CN and attending schools on the East Coast. It also details contacts he made and the influences he faced leading up to his time spent as CN principal chief. John Ross was the principal chief from 1828–66, serving longer in this position than any other person. During his service to the Cherokee people as principal chief, Ross witnessed devastation by both the Indian removals and the Civil War. The John Ross Museum highlights the life of Ross and houses exhibits and interactive displays on the Trail of Tears, Civil War, Cherokee Golden Age and the Nation’s passion for education. The museum is housed in an old, rural school building known as School No. 51 and sits at the foot of Ross Cemetery, where Ross and other notable CN citizens are buried. The museum is located at 22366 S. 530 Road. CN museums are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For information on Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism, including museum operations, call 1-877-779-6977 or visit <a href="http://www.VisitCherokeeNation.com" target="_blank">www.VisitCherokeeNation.com</a>.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
08/13/2016 10:00 AM
COLUMBUS, Ky. (AP) – Local historical and tourism organizations, along with state and national park representatives, participated in a recent ceremony at Columbus-Belmont State Park highlighting west Kentucky’s role in the historic Trail of Tears. The ceremony was designed to honor the approximately 1,100 Cherokee Indians who endured the Trail of Tears Benge Route, named after John Benge, who led the detachment in 1838 on a route to Oklahoma that included passage through Hickman County. The event included dedication of the signage that marks the route of the Benge Detachment and the unveiling of the newest park exhibits depicting the land and water routes of the trail. The Trail of Tears was a series of forced relocations of Indian nations to areas west of the Mississippi River following the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Those who were relocated suffered from exposure, disease and starvation on the trek from their ancestral lands in Southeastern states, and more than 10,000 died. The Cherokee removal in 1838 took the lives of more than 2,000 of 16,500 people forced to leave their homeland. According to the Kentucky Great River Region Organization, the Benge group arrived in Columbus in mid-November 1838 and awaited transport across the Mississippi River by ferry to Belmont, Missouri. The Cherokees most likely spent several days camped around the ferry landing in the area of what is now the state park. “We’re seeing a vision become a reality,” said Alice Murphree, Kentucky Chapter president of the Trail of Tears Association, of the project that involved the work of several organizations and countless volunteer hours. “This is the actual route they took ... this site was witness to all of them who went by water.” The new exhibits demonstrate how important west Kentucky is to the overall promotion of the state as a tourist destination, through cultural heritage tourism, according to Amy Potts, communications specialist with the Kentucky Department of Travel & Tourism. “We can creatively market the state as a destination by how we tell our story, showing the places, artifacts and actions that represent stories of our people, past and present,” she said. According to Ron Vanover, director of recreational parks and historic sites for Kentucky state parks, the dedication of the signs about the intersection of the land and water routes of the Trail of Tears “will raise the visibility for this park for many guests and the community. “They will help tell the important story of what happened way before the Civil War. Moreover, these signs and the groups gathered today are here for a reason. That reason is to see that the Cherokee story will live on and on and on.” Troy Wayne Poteete is chief justice of the Cherokee Supreme Court and executive director of the national Trail of Tears Association. “I will tell you all that the designation of this route as a national trail was not a Cherokee initiative,” Poteete said. “This sad chapter is not something that we went to Congress and said we want you to make this a national trail.” However, after legislation was passed establishing the Trail of Tears as an official long distance trail, a highly placed Cherokee in the National Park Service helped get funding together and established an advisory council through the park service, Poteete said. That led to the formation of the national Trail of Tears organization and the state chapters that followed. “As a Cherokee official, I would have you know why we invest so much time and energy into the making of this trail,” Poteete said. “We don’t do this because we want to capture the image of our ancestors in the role of victims, and absolutely they were victimized. “The reason we do this is because this is an opportunity for us to honor that generation of Cherokee which endured, and not only endured, but rebuilt the Cherokee nation,” he said. “We draw lessons and inspirations as a people now from that tenacity. From that perseverance, that strength and resilience.” According to Poteete, “It is our responsibility to pass on to the next generation, a Cherokee nation strong, viable. It is our intention that our culture and our language be alive ... and people will be singing hymns in Cherokee when the Lord comes again.”
BY ROGER GRAHAM
Media Specialist – @cp_rgraham &
JAMI MURPHY
Senior Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
08/12/2016 08:15 AM
PARK HILL, Okla. – The Cherokee Heritage Center’s first female executive director has resigned to take an assistant professor post at Northeastern State University. Cherokee Nation citizen Candessa Tehee’s last day was Aug. 5. She was to start at NSU on Aug. 8. “I have accepted a position at Northeastern State University for an assistant professor of American Indian studies, and the position will focus on Cherokee language teaching and research and is also encouraged to do a lot of engagement with the local community. And that is something I’m very excited and really looking forward to,” she said. Tehee served as executive director for about 2-1/2 years and previously worked at the CN for five years. Her first CN job was at the Cherokee Immersion Charter School as a clerk in curriculum and instruction. “Every step that I’ve taken has been kind of another rung up the ladder,” Tehee said, “until I’m now departing as executive director of the Cherokee Heritage Center.” Shane Jett, Cherokee National Historical Society board of trustees president, said he and other board members were working closely with the CN as they made arrangements for Tehee’s departure. “She is a strong and accomplished Cherokee woman, and I appreciate her achievements. She has overcome many obstacles in her life and sets a great example for Cherokee young women and young men for that matter,” he said. “I’m thrilled for the professional development opportunity her new teaching position affords her.” The CNHS has been around since 1963 and will be around for many years to come, Jett added. “It has survived because of the many contributions of time, talent and treasure from so many good people both Cherokees (and) non-Cherokee alike. I’m confident that we will continue to thrive from future Cherokees who will continue the tradition of promoting and teaching Cherokee heritage, history and culture,” he said. “Like with any transition this is a challenging time, but also a time of opportunity. The board is working hard to meet the challenges of filling her very capable shoes. I am confident that we will transition smoothly and continue to fulfill our mission.” Tehee said the CHC has gone from being a groundbreaking, innovative living history organization to a mainstay of the local community. “Has probably served hundreds of thousands of people throughout its history. In my 2-1/2 tenure here we have served I know over 130,000 for sure,” she said. “I have been able to oversee some changes to the infrastructure here and to the organization itself, which I feel have been very positive, and I will certainly miss the staff and miss the programming here.” On Aug. 5, Jett said in cooperation with Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. the CNHS board had selected Tonia Weavel as the CHC’s interim executive director. Jett said the next step was to conduct a nationwide search for a quality replacement in collaboration with CN leadership.
BY STAFF REPORTS
08/11/2016 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The next meeting of the Tahlequah Writers group is 2 p.m. Aug. 20 at the Cherokee Arts Center at 212 S. Water St. behind the Spider Gallery. Steve Cypert will present an example of multimedia showing his short movie “Spy Girl” and discuss marketing creative works. Discussion will include progress on the group’s daylong programming for the “Voices From Ink” writers’ festival slated for Oct. 1 at the NSU Jazz Lab downtown. The group will also learn of progress on its upcoming anthology titled “Green Country.” The Aug. 20 meeting is open to the public and provided by Tahlequah Writers. The Tahlequah Library will have an author’s fest Sept. 10 for bookselling, and Tahlequah Writers group coordinator Karen Coody Cooper is managing the event. Monthly meetings are casual and involve news of interest to writers and updates on what attendees are writing. Attendees include poets, fiction writers, historians, essayists, humorists, playwrights, scriptwriters, and more. Meetings discuss the art of writing as well as the business of publishing and promotion. For more information, call Coody Cooper at 918-207-0093 or email <a href="mailto: karcoocoo@att.net">karcoocoo@att.net</a>. People can also visit Tahlequah Writers on Facebook.